Dr. Wei-Hock "Willie" Soon at the University of Wisconsin. (Source: YouTube Screengrab)

Dr. Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon at the University of Wisconsin. (Source: YouTube Screengrab)

Newly released documents have revealed that one of the leading sources of man-made climate change denial has been paid over $1 million by various energy companies and oil interests over the last 14 years.

The documents were obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request by Greenpeace and then released to The New York Times with the participation of the Climate Investigations Center. The documents show that, for more than a decade, Dr. Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon has received funding from entities within the fossil fuel industry.

This includes at least $409,000 from Southern Company Services, a subsidiary of the Southern Company, one of the biggest coal-reliant electricity providers in the country; at least $230,000 from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation; $330,000 from ExxonMobil; $274,000 from the American Petroleum Institute, the nation’s main oil lobby; and $324,000 in anonymous donations through a trust used by the Koch brothers and other conservative donors. Altogether, money paid to Soon by the fossil fuel industry totals about $1.25 million.

Dr. Willie Soon is a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. However, he is neither an astrophysicist nor an employee at Harvard. He is in fact a part-time employee of the Smithsonian Institution with a doctoral degree in aerospace engineering. Despite the fact that Dr. Soon has no formal education in climatology, his papers have been widely cited by conservative politicians as evidence that man-made climate change is in question.

Dr. Soon’s scientific papers have focused on the idea that the sun is driving global warming and that humans have relatively little impact on the climate. The New York Times points out that in at least 11 papers he has published since 2008, he has failed to disclose the hundreds of thousands of dollars he has received from the fossil fuel industry, which is required of contributors to scientific journals. The Times states that, in at least eight of those 11 papers, he appears “to have violated [the] ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work.”

On Friday, Charles R. Alcock, director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center, acknowledged that Soon had violated the some journals’ disclosure standards. “I think that’s inappropriate behavior,” he told the Times.

W. John Kress, interim undersecretary for science at the Smithsonian in Washington, told the Times that he was “very concerned” about the issue and that the Smithsonian is currently investigating it.

Soon’s ties to the fossil fuel industry have been recognized for years, but prior to the release of these documents, the extent of that relationship has never been clear. In one cited instance of correspondence with his corporate funders, Soon describes his scientific papers as “deliverables.” He does the same when referring to a testimony he prepared for Congress.

Kert Davies, executive director of the Climate Investigations Center, said collusion between Soon and his funders shows “the continuation of a long-term campaign by specific fossil-fuel companies and interests to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change.”

In public appearances, Dr. Soon has fielded questions about his fossil fuel sponsorship, saying that it makes no difference to his research and that he accepts payment from whoever wants to pay him.

Below is a video from a Q&A at the University of Wisconsin in 2013. PolluterWatch’s Connor Gibson asked Soon, “You have received over one million dollars in funds from coal and oil interests. The last grant you received from a funder with no ties to the energy industry was in 2002…. [W]hy should we trust someone without credentials in climate science whose work is only funded by coal and oil interests?” 

Here is Soon’s (somewhat hostile) response:

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